Nissan showed off some serious cabin tech innovations over the last couple of years, but leaves them out of the all-new 2008 Nissan Rogue. This entry-level car fits into the new crossover segment, and seems like a cut-rate version of Nissan's Murano. The cabin tech it does have mostly concerns the audio system and is well integrated with the car.
For an entry-level crossover, it has abundant cargo space and a nicely designed, modern exterior. The Rogue is very easy to drive, although it is a little wobbly due to its high center of gravity. The engine isn't particularly powerful, and we would consider the fuel economy only average. But the Rogue's highest tech feature is in the driveline, with a continuously variable transmission sporting virtual gears.
Test the tech: Virtual shifting
When the 2008 Nissan Rogue showed up in our garage, we were surprised to see that its continuously variable transmission included a manual shift mode. With an automatic transmission, manual gear selection locks it into one of its gears, but a continuously variable transmission has no fixed gears. For its manual selection mode, it uses six virtual gears, created by programming in at specific ratios. When we used a similar system on the Lexus GS450h, a Lexus engineer downplayed the usefulness of these virtual gears, suggesting they mainly worked to slow a car going down a hill.
But we put the Nissan Rogue's virtual gears through the paces we would reserve for a car with fixed gears. And we came away impressed--Nissan has figured out a way to make its continuously variable transmission behave like a manual.
Our first test involved timed runs to 60 mph, in Drive and by manually selecting the gears. For the first run, we just put the car in Drive and held the gas pedal all the way down. The car skittered a little, then built up speed; its 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine getting us to 60 mph in a leisurely 9.3 seconds. We switched to manual mode, holding gears right up to redline using the paddle shifters mounted on the wheel. We gained a little time over our initial run, getting to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds. The difference in times showed that the manual mode is worth something, as we were able to run the revs up higher than Drive mode allowed.
For the second test, we took the Rogue up a winding mountain road, using sport driving techniques by downshifting and applying power before the turns. During this test, we were able to keep the Rogue in virtual third gear on most of the straightaways, then put it into second as we approached each curve. A strong foot on the gas through the turn produced some tire squealing pleasure and carried us out the other end, although we couldn't push it too hard due to the height of the vehicle. The gear shifts accomplished what they were supposed to, and felt reasonably solid in the bargain, but the small engine couldn't provide the power to make this type of driving really exciting.
Finally, we took the Rogue on a downhill run to see how well the virtual gears worked at engine braking. It came as no surprise that our gear selections worked as advertised, keeping the car at a reasonable speed. We kept it in second for a lot of this run, as we had a fairly steep and curving road. This part of the test revealed how solid these virtual gears felt. Overall, we were impressed with the performance of the virtual gears, feeling they did an excellent job of mimicking fixed gears. We only ended up wishing for a more powerful engine to take advantage of the transmission.
In the cabin
Our 2008 Nissan Rogue was an SL version, a step up from the S model, fitted with the $1,900 Premium package, giving it as many amenities as are available in the two-wheel-drive version of the car. These amenities included paddle shifters, a trip computer, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and a seven speaker Bose audio system. Bluetooth is available, but only with the all-wheel-drive version of the car, while navigation isn't offered at all.
So the only real cabin tech in our Rogue was the stereo system. This stereo has an auxiliary jack mounted on its faceplate, XM satellite radio, and a six-disc in-dash changer. The changer plays MP3 CDs, letting you navigate discs using the same paradigm it uses for XM satellite radio. We found the interface easy to use--it made selecting music from a very full MP3 CD possible. We were also impressed that you could cycle through displays for artist, album, and song. We liked the audio controls on the steering wheel, which gave us a lot of flexibility for selecting music.
The seven-speaker Bose audio system sounded good, but not great. It produced strong bass, but the highs were muted with very little clarity. The car has a grille for a center-fill speaker, but it is small, suggesting that the speaker doesn't have much power. The standard stereo in the Rogue uses four speakers.
Under the hood
The 2008 Nissan Rogue uses a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with double overhead cams. Along with its horsepower, the engine produces 175 foot-pounds of torque. It's not exactly a rocket and can make for some hair-raising experiences merging onto the freeway. Nissan probably could have tuned the engine to produce a little more power, but that might have adversely affected fuel economy.
The continuously variable transmission does a good job of making up for the low power. With the throttle mashed, the transmission keeps the RPM needle hovering close to redline. And as we proved in our 60 mph test, you can improve on that by working the paddles in manual shift mode. The transmission is also supposed to give the car better mileage than a manual or automatic, as it can keep the engine at its peak operating efficiency. The EPA rates the Rogue at 22 mpg city and 27 mpg on the highway, while we saw an average of 23.2 mpg over our time with it. For a small SUV or crossover, these numbers are about average. Some Rogues are built with an emissions system that ranks as a LEV II from California's Air Resources Board, while others get the much better SULEV rating. The engine label 8NSXT02.585A marks the SULEV versions.
The steering is very responsive in the Rogue, and it stayed nice and even with an electric power steering system. But the car handles as you would expect of a small SUV. The ride quality is good, as the car uses independent struts in front and an independent multilink suspension in back. Overall, the Rogue feels like an able car that doesn't offer much driving inspiration.
Our 2008 Nissan Rogue SL, with front-wheel-drive, came in with a base price of $20,670. We felt the $1,900 Premium package was well worth it, as it brought in a big list of conveniences and better entertainment options, although we are disappointed that Bluetooth is available only on the all-wheel-drive version. Along with $110 floor mats and a $745 destination fee, our Rogue's tab totaled to $23,425.
The Rogue's minimal tech options kept its cabin score down, although we do give it credit for a really good implementation of its audio controls and interface. Performance also falls in the so-so category, as we would want better fuel economy in exchange for its lack of power. But the continuously variable transmission gives its score a little boost. Finally, we like its design. The car looks good and offers a lot of practical room inside.